Last week was my first Gilbane conference as a Gilbane analyst, having in previous years only served variously as vendor booth bunny, guest speaker or panellist  and it was great to focus on meeting folks, listening to some great sessions and participating as a moderator and speaker.  Two and a half packed days, that stretched long into the evening  felt like a week and my new resolve to keep my blog posts short, could be tested – but I’m going to stick to a couple of key things… honest.

Firstly, almost without exception the sessions talked about strategy – not always saying the word ‘strategy’, but certainly of taking a higher level view of objectives – whether we were talking about Intranets, Social Media, Web Engagement or User Experience – a pause for thought before diving into the tools seems the order of the day.

On ‘diving in’ – this conversation really started during the Industry Analyst Debate – sparked off by this post by Andrew McAfee on whether to or not to pilot new tools. It seemed in the end to end in a draw (or possibly with a fight with McAfee – who wasn’t there) depending on the initiative. Clearly some initiatives and tools are easy, low impact and  naturally infectious and others need a bit of work.

But, this idea of ‘diving in’cropped up in later discussions, for example on user experience when we were discussing the web customer experience (an excellent session by Melissa Casburn @mcasburn and Randy Woods @randywoods) – where the take away was to try stuff, even using a bit of good old fashioned gut feel – but to measure and test the results.

Measure, yes, but be a slave to the data – not so much – a point that came out a few times – but was extremely well expressed by Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose) in the last session of the last day (and to learn more about his thinking, I’d suggest reading this blog post).

I completely agree with his assertion that data is only there for efficiency – who cares how many visitors if they are not relevant to your business? (Or as I say, your website is not a popularity contest – umm… unless it is).

Tools didn’t get ignored, I really enjoyed being free to chat to the vendors (I’ve talked about this before) and one WCM got mentioned in more than one session and seems to be making a name for itself as a ‘marketing aware’ product. The fact that this year the WCM track was called “Customers and Engagement” I think says a lot about an industry that has move from IT, to users and is now focusing on the audience.

This audience focus is increasingly the remit of us as content management professionals and it really shone through in a lot of the sessions – whether you are talking about an Intranet, content technologies, web experience or analytics.

Plenty of folks covered the conference with twitter and blog posts, but I would really recommend Sue Ann Reed’s blog – this girl can type as fast as I can talk (almost!) and was astonishingly live blogging the event and won her attendance through the generosity of Robert Rose.  Also CMSWire did a great job too – here are a collection of Gilbane SF posts.

So, my take aways:

– Take a breath, think about what you are doing before choosing/blaming/changing tools

– Try stuff, but measure the results

– Don’t get too hung up on the numbers

– Find ‘marketing aware’ tools

Does that sound about right to you?